Posts Tagged ‘DIY’

As the season progresses, our home here is coming back to life, as the focus switches from keeping warm to any number of projects and activities.  Now when the weather is nice, everyone is outside, working on building projects, gardening, etc.  It feels good to know winter is coming to a close, with the rest of the year waiting for us behind it.  I’ve been putting in a lot of hours at the dairy where I work, but on my days off I’ve been focusing on finishing the second story of the cob house, cobbing in the rafters and getting the room ready to plaster.  All the cob is almost finished, and I hope to be able to plaster within the next week!

The weather on Friday was still a bit chilly, so Noel volunteered to do all the foot mixing, while I sat on the balcony and watched, my feet warm and safe inside my boots…

Since Noel mixed the cob, I built with it, closing the gaps around the rafters.  Its been months since my hands have got to experience the sensation of working with cob, and I had almost forgotten just how much I love it…the deep satisfaction that comes from working with my hands.

Here you can see how much nicer the roundwood rafters look once they’re surrounded by the cob wall.  All the darker brown cob above the window is the fresh stuff.

We finally finished cobbing in the wood stove on Friday as well, and I’m excited to fire it up for the first time at some point this week!  Here’s some pictures:

crazy stovepipe...

So, now there is a new object in view from the balcony of the cob house.  Can you see something in the background, between the stump and the cob house?

Our friends Julia and Ben are building a tiny cabin, mainly out of salvaged materials and roundwood harvested from the woods here.  Its looking so cute that I can’t resist posting some pictures of it!  Designed to be low-cost and quickly built, most of the work has been over the last month, with hardly any money spent on materials.




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A few weeks ago, when the temperatures dropped from the 90s into the 70s, the change of seasons seemed to be coming all too soon, and I started to worry that this house might not be finished by winter.  But we’ve been working hard, devoting every possible moment to this conversion of soil into shelter.  Cob can’t really happen once the temperatures start to freeze, as the freeze/thaw cycle weakens cob… and near-freezing water brings pain to bare feet.  However, all our effort is keeping me hopeful that this winter we’ll have a warm place to be in, as the walls are growing fast, with the south wall of the second story pretty much at it’s final height.

I wanted to share a few pictures before I head back to cobbing…

work party!

a rare view from the north, as work on the 2nd story begins...

Talitha preps the south wall for a window

a door frame for the 2nd story, this one only 3 feet tall...

round window

through the door frame...

on the south wall (notice more cat stairs to the east!)

Noel cobbing in a lintel

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Last week I took a mini road trip up to Philly, and along the way got to visit a friend of mine who is building a home for herself and her husband.  Most of the building projects I’ve worked on have been with the same people each time, so seeing Melissa’s project was so much fun for me, and such an inspiration!  She decided that she was going to build a house, and without ever having even seen a cob house before, she just got some books and taught herself.  This is why I love cob.

We all have the knowledge and ability and resources to meet our needs for shelter.  That knowledge is just buried underneath all the messages whispered into our ears as we grow up in our culture.  Messages about who can build.  Who is strong enough.  Who has the expertise.  Messages about what shelter is.  Messages about what our needs even are.  When we can break away from what we’ve been told, we start to realize what’s possible.

At 5’1″, Melissa is smaller than me!  But, like me, she is the main person building her home.  She dry stacked her own foundation (on a rubble trench dug 3 feet deep!), and now has her walls built up, with almost all the windows in.  When Greg and I were walking through the woods trying to find her place, we knew we were on the right trail when this is what we saw peeking back at us through the trees:

The land there is meant for cob.  Amazingly beautiful stones are laying everywhere, perfect for dry stacking, but surprisingly few stones are in her soil to interfere with digging.  And the subsoil is almost the perfect mix of sand and clay!  Melissa hardly has to add any sand!  I’m jealous of her soil, as I’ve found I have to add a lot of aggregate to my mix to keep it from cracking dramatically.

Here a stone is embedded in the wall, just asking you to run your hand along it’s surface:

What does a construction worker look like?

An architect?

A designer?

An expert?…

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Yesterday was the longest day of the year, with the season’s growth at its peak, the sun high in the sky, and a just-born baby goat on the farm.  To top off an already awesome day, the timing was perfect for putting in the first (and largest) window in the house.   At 68” wide and 66” tall, it takes up the majority of the southern wall.

Here you can see where I leveled a section of the south wall, leaving just enough space to slide in the window:

After making sure the corners are square, Noel and Gray braced the window with some scrap lumber, to make sure the corners stay at a 90 degree angle, so the window doesn’t shift at all, and will still open easily a few months from now.

Placing the window….

Bracing the window to the ground, making sure it stays plum and level…

We screwed some “deadmen” into the sides of the window, which help anchor the window into the wall as we cob around it.  Here I am cobbing in the deadman, which in this case is a piece of cedar:

Here’s the window at the end of the day, looking kind of ridiculous in proportion to the wall it rests upon:

The window on the southern side is going in pretty low, combining Pattern 222 (Low Sill) and Pattern 223 (Deep Reveals) to create an interior window seat that will be the perfect place to sit and read.  When the weather is nice I’ll have the window open, so as I read I’ll be able to smell all the herbs that will have been planted outside.

What do I mean by patterns 222 and 223?  Well, I’m referring to A Pattern Language, one of my favorite books, and a must-read before building anything!

The section for the second largest window is prepped, but I”l probably save all the rest of the window installing for our cob workshop here in the beginning of July.  Since there’s a nice layer of cob along the entire stemwall, I’ve had a lot of fun jumping up on the wall, and seeing everything from a different perspective.  Feeling the cob under my feet as it dries and hardens makes me have a lot of respect for it as a building material.  Its totally solid and rock-hard:

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A couple weeks ago my watch broke.  Then my laptop got sick.  And now my cell phone is barely functional.  The message I’ve been getting lately has been clear.  Are modern technologies able to withstand temperatures above 90 degrees?  Humidity above 90%?  A time span of more than a few years?  In a few hundred years my laptop will be just another item slowly releasing its contents into the earth and water around it.  So will my cell phone.  And my watch.

What will this cob house look like in a few hundred years?  Maybe a great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchild will be sleeping upstairs with a few cats, replastering every once in a while, fixing any leaks in the roof.  Maybe it will have been abandoned, the field long since grown back into a forest, and the clay, sand, and straw returned to the soil.  A family of black bears will have found the urbanite foundation, still standing, creating a perfect shelter…

I made my first foot mix a couple weeks ago, thinking about the materials under my feet, and where they would be when I was gone.

The other day my friend Feezor came over and we dug around in the neighbor’s scrap wood pile, scavenging enough pine and cedar to make a custom door frame.

A great thing about designing and building your own house is being able to build with the size of your own body in mind.  I’m short, standing tall at around 5’3″ with shoes on.  The front door will be 5’6″, and 23 1/2 inches wide.  It feels good to stand in a doorway made just for you…

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Every spare second of my time over the last week has been spent moving around pieces of concrete.  I wore holes through the fingers of my gloves, and then wore my fingertips raw.  When I laid the last chunk of urbanite today I almost didn’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the day.  I just hung around the house site for a while, walking some on the foundation to test the stones, and make sure they didn’t move.  Now that the foundation is finished, the wall is ready for some cob!  I can’t wait to get some mud on my feet.

south wall

west wall & entrance

north & west walls

So, today I did use a little cement to mortar the bricks in the threshold.  The guy at a local building supply store gave me a free bag of concrete that had busted open. Here’s some mortar action:

And the threshold:


And here I am gloating over my beautiful, beautiful stemwall:

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topsoil cleared!

Stevie & Noel stake the site

After moving around a lot of stones and bamboo, we decided on the exact location for the house.  A stake was placed marking the center point of the building, and from there we marked some other key points.  And then finally…time to dig!  Noel, Stevie, Gray, and I had a topsoil clearing party to celebrate one of the warmest days we’ve had in weeks.  Now that all the topsoil is gone, next we’ll be leveling the site, and then the rubble trench!

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